Film Festivals: why they are more important than ever!

I’m obsessed. It’s true. There are very few people who dedicate this much time attending, working and curating film festivals; my life is is ALL about film and I love it. As I embark on the journey to help birth two new film festivals in the Front Range of Colorado, one might question why? Do we need another film festival? Aren’t Sundance, Cannes, TriBeca and SXSW covering all the bases? So few people attend local film festivals in the early years of a festival…why do I work so hard to get these events off the ground? Why bother?

Here’s the thing…Americans are insulated. We are living in a very divisive time and so many of us are surrounded by like-minded individuals. Our lives are lived in bubbles of work, family, church and community. There is little opportunity or dollars to travel if you’re working hard to stay employed.  And little time off to pursue the pleasures of the arts or hobbies or time to just BE. Politics have become an issue that raises blood pressure and angry words. There are alarming changes to government policies and threats to art, education and environment. What does this look like from the perspective of countries outside our own? Do you know? Do you care?

Rather than turn inward, or turn off—I find community in the shared experience of cinema. When there were threats to the EPA, I went to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival and listened to the cheers of nature-lovers applauding the work of environmentalists. When the ACLU seemed overwhelmed by government actions, I went to the United Nations traveling film festival where civic-minded film lovers rallied friends to march, donate and celebrate successes here and worldwide.

Not everyone is fortunate to live in a town with an art house theater. Fort Collins, CO, has a gem of an art house theater. The Lyric Cinema Cafe will soon be moving but currently there are screenings of the Oscar-nominated Shorts and on Feb 28th, short films created by local filmmakers in 48 hours! Tonight, I’m going to a screening billing itself as a film festival. I love how Wandering Reel Film Festival describes it’s mission:

“Artists have long been at the forefront of social innovation. The Wandering Reel believes in the power of film art to effect positive change, to bring people together through shared cultural experiences and to promote peace and justice around the world by inspiring conversation between individuals and communities through the common experience of cinema. By exposing under-served communities with films that are artful in their meaning and compassionate and conscious in their approach, the boundaries that divide people can be slowly stripped away, cultures can be enriched and peace grown across the globe.”

Learning about other cultures and other worlds is so important. Documentaries are so crucial to spreading knowledge and helping us learn about our world. Yes, we need to decompress and laugh at Batman, The Lego Movie but the experience just doesn’t compare to the satisfaction of seeing Hidden Figures! This fictionalised account of a true story benefits from the amazing cast but it’s the STORY; the true story that draws you in. There’s a feeling of community when you hear the applause in a crowded theater; when you know that we’ve all shared an experience and learned something together. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race written by Margot Lee Shetterley.

We can all be transported and moved by a true story compellingly told.


Yes, documentaries are more important than ever; I completely agree with Simon Kilmurry! I would argue that we also need places to see these compelling documentaries. That’s why we need film festivals. How many documentaries are screening at your local cineplex? You need to seek them out on the Nature Channel or PBS; you need to set your DVR. I’m on a mission to bring them to you, in your town, to help build community and showcase your local talented film community. I hope you’ll join me!

See you at the Boulder International Film Festival March 2-5 and at the Front Range Film Festival April 20-23! And stayed tuned for news about Lyons, Nederland and the newest film and craft festival: Boulder Beer and Film Festival in September!

Please put this important documentary on your must see list for tomorrow night! A perfect companion film to the brilliant documentary, I’m Not Your Negro about the life of James Baldwin. Because, Black Lives Matter!


Maya Angelou in 1974.
Maya Angelou in 1974. Wayne Miller/Magnum, via PBS
‘Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,’ 8 p.m., PBS (Check Local Listings)
This two-hour “American Masters” biography covers the astonishing breadth of Angelou’s work as a singer, performer, poet, author and activist, and includes footage from throughout her life as well as candid interviews.
KQED has a thorough companion archive to the documentary, which is particularly poignant because Angelou hosted a 10-part series on KQED in 1968 called “Blacks, Blues, Black!”

“Walking the Camino”–Seeking for truth along the Trail


When Lydia Smith walked the Camino de Santiago in 2009, she was not looking for material for a film.  Like many other pilgrims on the 500-mile journey, she was searching for truth.  There are probably as many reasons to walk as there are travelers on the path but most people seem to be trying to understand something about themselves or the world.  Beyond blisters, a chance to see the world or a nifty story to tell; those who choose this path are often searching for peace.

Fortunately for all of us, Lydia returned from her experience in Spain and was compelled to make Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.  Her five-year journey to raise funds, find the crew and decide which of her subjects to include in the film is an amazing tale.  Martin Sheen even used some of her 300 hours of footage as a training video for the actors in his 2010 film, The Way, so that they could understand the realities of the arduous journey. He was so moved by her film, that Martin Sheen took the time during his own preview screening to promote her film-in-progress!

The film follows six travelers from very different backgrounds, ages and skill sets, and explores their intentions and motivations as they travel from France to the city of Santiago.  From a deeply religious mother bringing her three-year-old son and just-along-for-the-adventure brother, to a pair of friends walking to commemorate the death of a wife, to the middle-aged woman who struggles to complete the walk as she struggles with extreme physical pain…each person reveals their touching personal journeys along the way.

The simplicity of the day’s journey and the beauty of the countryside are captured with gorgeous camerawork.  A film best enjoyed on a big screen, the Spanish countryside and mountains seem to dwarf the walkers as they wind along the paths in pairs or alone, then in small groups.  Ebbing and flowing along the path; each of them finding companionship, solitude, inner strength and some measure of peace as they persevere.  You are drawn into their stories and feel their joy as they arrive at their destination, the beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela.  This a moving film that celebrates the pursuit of truth; as one of our pilgrims says, “I went to find the answers and realized, I don’t even know the question!”  A joyful film that is a remarkable achievement by Lydia Smith and her production team, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is being self-distributed.  Check out the links below to find when it’s playing near you (or to host a screening!) and look for it in October when it’s released for video on demand!

Rating: 4 bottle of potable water

My interview of director, producer Lydia Smith about self-distribution for her film, “Walking the Camino”. Shot on my phone in Boulder, CO. March 21, 2014